National Tobacco 21 legislation could have merit, but tobacco industry influence remains a concern

Julie Bisbee, TSET Executive Director | July 2, 2019

Anti-tobacco advocates are questioning some proposals to raise the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Raising the minimum purchasing age is part of Tobacco Stops With Me’s 7-point plan to cut the adult smoking rate in half over the next decade. A law to increase the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 cuts off a major pipeline for underage tobacco access from peers, prevents premature deaths and has the potential to reduce Oklahoma’s smoking rate by as much as 12 percent. While legislation at the national level is significant, it is important that the legislation is scrutinized and written for maximum impact, and not as a public relations win for Big Tobacco.

Some proposals are carried by lawmakers from tobacco-producing states who have received hefty contributions from cigarette manufacturers – including Altria – the maker of Marlboro and partial owners of JUUL the top maker of e-cigarette devices that have seen rapid increase in use by youth.

History has shown that Big Tobacco has prioritized profit over people time and time again. A federal judge in 2006 ruled that tobacco companies violated civil racketeering laws and lied to the American public about the addictiveness of nicotine, adverse health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke and marketed tobacco to children. In 2018, tobacco companies published corrective statements and ran television commercials that outlined how the companies worked together to lie, mislead and addict the public.

Legislation supported by Big Tobacco and JUUL should be thoroughly vetted to ensure it meets best-practice policies to prevent children from purchasing addictive cigarettes and vapor devices

There is concern that the bill will punish underage tobacco purchasers rather than the retailers who sell it. It is important that we understand the benefits of increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco but, in order for this to be effective, it must be done with care and without industry influence. We don’t need tobacco companies to write laws aimed at protecting children. It is our responsibility to call out Big Tobacco manipulation – as we have seen it time and time again – and be informed about what happens at the national level in order to ensure that the health of Americans is made first priority.

As a state agency, TSET’s role is to educate Oklahomans on the benefits of modernizing our state’s tobacco and smokefree laws and making sure young people don’t continue to fuel Big Tobacco’s business model to attract and addict its next generation of customers. When it comes to any legislation seeking to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21, I ask that you read any bill language closely to seek out whether or not the tobacco industry has implanted provisions making health-promoting policies harder to enact in the future. Examples of health-promoting language includes:

  • Fines and penalties should not be on the underage purchaser or the sales associate. Retailers should bear responsibility for following the law.
  • Oppose language that limits local control of regulations on tobacco or other nicotine product sales, secondhand smoke, or e-cigarette emissions.
  • Support policies zoning and licensing policies that would reduce tobacco advertising to children and prevent minors from purchasing tobacco.
  • Regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product and require a license to sell the products.
  • Provide authority for the state, county, or municipality to inspect tobacco retailers for compliance with minimum legal sale age 21 and a mandated minimum number of annual compliance checks for every tobacco retail establishment e-cigarette retail establishments.
  • Require tobacco retailers to post signs stating that sales to persons under the age of 21 are prohibited and ensuring the penalty fee structure is appropriate.

Click here to learn more about how Oklahoma would benefit from raising the tobacco purchase age to 21.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on July 8, 2019